I have been creating hand painted clothing for over 20 years. I’ve always been able to draw, but it took some time to find the right path for my creative energy. In 1989, I moved to St. John, US Virgin Islands, and landed a job in a boutique as one of 2 or 3 in-house artists painting lovely tropical designs on island-style sportswear. Something about painting it and wearing it really hit home with me. What began as a fun job on a beautiful Caribbean island has continued to define me as an artist to the present day.
I individually hand paint each garment or accessory item freehand, without patterns or stencil. I love the spontaneity of working free-hand, happy accidents and all, often making up designs as I go. Design motifs seem to acquire a life of their own as I paint. I begin many of my designs by drawing with a tube of acrylic paint with a plastic tip screwed on instead of its regular cap. After the lines are dry, I use flat-edged brushes to apply acrylic colors, blending color directly on the garment surface. This means working fairly quickly, before the paint colors have dried. I thin the acrylic paints with a combination of water and medium, which helps the paint work into the fabric and controls bleeding while maintaining color brilliance. The mixture of paint and medium varies according to the type of fabric I’m working on and according to the desired effect.
When creating a design on a piece of clothing, I look at the entire garment as a canvas, keeping in mind that the item will not be hanging on a flat wall but will be worn by a person. Design elements need to be placed so as to flatter the wearer. I try to blend colors in such a way that the garment may coordinate with other items in a person’s wardrobe.
My finished items are all washable according to the garment manufacturer’s instructions. Most of the things I paint are machine washable and machine dryable. The paints I use do not require heat setting, and they will not run or fade onto other items in the wash. Anything that I paint on white may be bleached (!) without affecting the painted design.
Buying a unique, one-of-a-kind wearable item is an investment for some, and I want people to enjoy wearing my designs for years and years. I never tire of watching a person’s face light up when they first see the shirt or hat I have painted. I love to hear that a little girl’s favorite dress is the one I painted for her, or that a boy who never liked to wear hats won’t take off the one that I painted. I myself have shirts and hats whose paintings have held up for over 20 years, through repeated wearing, washing, drying, and wearing again. And again. Lather, rinse, dry. Wear, turn heads, and have fun.